The 8247 speaker system is sold directly from Monoprice with a 30-day money-back guarantee and there's no restocking fee if you return the system, although you'll get stuck paying shipping both ways. And we should note that shipping fees can be significant, depending on where you live--it costs $21 to ship to our New York location.
We used a Denon AVR-1912 receiver and an Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray player for all of our listening tests. Monoprice didn't recommend a subwoofer-to-satellite crossover setting, so we experimented with 150Hz and 200Hz settings. Both sounded fine, but we settled on the 200Hz setting. As with every other small sub/sat system we've reviewed, we recommend placing the subwoofer within 4 or 5 feet of any of the three front speakers to ensure the best possible sound.
Considering the price, it was hard not to have low expectations of the Monoprice 8247. So, sure, our first impressions were very positive. The tonal balance was fairly even, and the subwoofer's blend with the little speakers was very good. The speakers tweeters avoided the tinny and harsh sound we associate with cheap speakers.
Encouraged by what we were hearing, we popped in the "Master and Commander" Blu-ray and cranked up the naval battle scenes. The Monoprice system played fairly loud without overt distress, and when the cannon balls crashed through the sides of the wooden ships, the system delivered the sonic assaults with gusto. The quieter scenes' dialogue sounded natural, and the wind and surf seemed to come from all around us. The five small speakers created a fully enveloping sound field in the CNET listening room.
We next compared the Monoprice 8247 with the Monoprice 8315 sound bar system ($115). We heard big differences, and the 5.1 system trounced the sound bar system on every count. The 5.1 system had a much smoother, more natural sound balance, the sub was more powerful and went deeper into the bass, the treble range was clearer, and being a true surround system, it produced a more room-filling sound.
As the doomed FedEx plane headed for a crash landing on the "Castaway" Blu-ray, the Monoprice 8247 sounded surprisingly detailed and could play loudly, though we noted some distortion coming from the sub. Turning the volume down helped matters, and the overall sound quality improved. Our listening room is large, and in smaller, under-200-square-foot rooms the small system would have an easier time.
We were so impressed we decided to compare the Monoprice with our favorite small system, the Energy Take Classic 5.1 ($400). The Energy Take Classic was better on every count, and sounded considerably more powerful, but we can't say it sounded four times better. The Monoprice sound was definitely enjoyable in its own right, but the Energy's sound was clearer, dynamics packed a bigger punch, and the tonal balance was more accurate. Considering the price differential, our respect for what the Monoprice does well only increased. If this system retailed for double the price, we'd be just as enthusiastic about its sound quality.
That said, the Monoprice's sound on CD was significantly less impressive. The little speakers sounded small and strained on The Black Keys' raucous blues rock. Again, we have to put that in perspective; few budget home theater speaker systems excel with music, so we can't judge the Monoprice system too harshly in that regard.
If you're buying a 5.1 speaker system on a budget, our recommendation is simple. If you can spend $400, go for the Energy Take Classic 5.1 or the Pioneer SP-PK21BS. If you can't spend that much, the Monoprice 8247 is the best deal we've seen.